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Odd Wisconsin Archive

A Circus Every Day

In 1936, residents of Manitowoc had the unique privilege of seeing a circus every day. No, it wasn't a permanent encampment of a show, nor even an extended visit from the famous Ringling Bros. or Barnum and Bailey troupes. It was a training school for the professional big top that the Wisconsin State Journal called, "the only one of its kind in the world."

A famous acrobatic clown named William G. Schultz established the school. It all began when a back injury forced Shultz to end his 26-year career in the circus. He retired to Manitowoc, his hometown, and opened a hot dog stand -- not very exciting, but it allowed him to regale local kids with stories of his circus days.

These stories eventually reached the ears of a Boy Scout troop leader who asked Schultz if he would direct a circus for the scouts. When he began training them, the children were so excited that they urged Schultz to start a public class in the basement of the local vocational school.

Schultz's school quickly grew into a veritable academy, with courses in everything from trapeze work and acrobatics to the proper way to apply face paint to a clown. Boys and girls aged 10-27 were eligible for enrollment.

Within five years his graduates were so well-known that many major circuses visited Manitowoc to recruit talent. The school was extremely popular, and Schultz had to eventually limit enrollment to 65 students per year. Every class was free, since he simply enjoyed sharing the art with others. We haven't discovered how long it lasted.

You can see dozens of historic photographs of circuses and circus performers at Wisconsin Historical Images.

Folkore about Wisconsin's circuses, collected in the 1930s by Wisconsin Writers' Program fieldworkers, is online at Turning Points in Wisconsin History. And of course you can learn a great deal more from Circus World Museum.

:: Posted in Curiosities on October 7, 2010

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